Winter in general tends to make me sad. Why? You’re not alone. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) affects as many as 10% of people in some parts of the country, particularly in areas where winter weather is more severe. Symptoms include depression, fatigue, oversleeping or overeating, and social withdrawal. The cause for SAD is uncertain, although reduced sunlight and an evolutionary response to expected food shortages during the winter in human prehistory are thought to play a role. Current treatments include increasing light exposure either naturally or with artificial sources (light therapy), exercise, vitamin D and/or melatonin supplementation, increasing supportive social interactions, prescription SSRIs or some combination of the above. That means, even the most annoying relatives can sometimes be beneficial for your mood :)
That being said, some of those relatives really drive me nuts, and the anxiety of being the perfect holiday host really is a nightmare. What can I do? The first step to limiting some of the stress of the holidays is managing expectations. Believe it or not, those “perfect” holiday gatherings your remember from your childhood probably weren’t that perfect either, if you really stop to think about it, and it certainly won’t be the end of the world if the stuffing turns out a little dry or your father-in-law and your uncle have a rather “passionate” discussion about the election outcome. Sometimes, those unplanned memories are the ones that make the holiday special.
Other potential stress reducers involve delegation of responsibilities (certainly make your signature dish but maybe your mother-in-law can make that green bean casserole you hate to make anyway), scheduling separate gatherings for family members who really can’t stand each other (your mom as thankful for your dad’s new wife as he is), scheduling some activities to get the family out of the house for a bit (shopping, movies, ball games, etc.) and remembering that it’s ok to take a few minutes for yourself, too (you’re the host, not the concierge). Even when you think there’s not a solution to how to manage family or cook the perfect turkey, someone has probably already figured it out for you, so ask a friend! Or, if that doesn’t work, there’s always the Butterball hotline (seriously!!) to answer all of your turkey cooking questions :)
Lastly, is there a way to make it through the holidays and still fit into my pre-Christmas clothes? While the temptation is there to graze through the holiday season (personally, my kryptonite is gingerbread...mmm...what was I talking about again?) and ignore your weight until January, there are steps you can take to limit the damage. Just Google healthy Thanksgiving sides, and you’ll get a huge list of recipes. Although that being said, quinoa stuffing may not be the biggest hit at your holiday gathering. Alternatively, just remember the words “portion control.” Just because you can eat that third slice of pumpkin pie doesn’t mean you’ll enjoy it. The average American consumes roughly 4,500 calories at the Thanksgiving meal alone (just half of that is more than adequate in day), and here’s how they get there: stuffing (500 calories per cup), green bean casserole (there are beans in there somewhere, right?), mashed potatoes (400-600 calories depending on butter, gravy, etc), apple pie (400 calories per slice before whipped cream), cornbread (200 calories per slice), mac and cheese (the “winner” at as many as 1,000 calories per serving), canned cranberry sauce (110 calories per 1/4 cup), and sweet potatoe casserole (450 calories). All that cream, gravy and butter? No wonder Thanksgiving veggies taste so good!
Any final tips? Try to get outside! While not easy at this time of year, if you can find the winter activity you love, it can help with decreasing the effects of SAD, decreasing stress, and mitigating the effects of those extra sweets. Whether walking, jogging, skiing, snowmobiling or even just chasing your children with a snowball (sometimes a stress relief on multiple levels), finding your favorite winter activity can help to round out your best holiday season yet :)